by: Karen Manschot, MS, RDN, LDN
Guest Post Writer
Our lives have drastically changed over the last week. We have gone from going to work, or school, or kids’ activities, or personal activities to being home juggling many things all at once. There’s lots of uncertainty right now and this uncertainty can lead many people to focus on food and their bodies. Wellness and food marketers can prey on this fear and uncertainty with “tips” that aren’t based in science and can cause harm. Instead of latching on to nutrition tips that may not be helpful, let’s look at what food recommendations may help ground us during this time.
1. Maintain a “flexible” structure.
It seems that so many news stories have focused on how to maintain structure with learning and school projects with kids who are home due to school closures. Even more importantly, consider keeping a “flexible” structure with meals and snacks. Focusing on a structure with food can help the rest of the day feel structured, if that’s helpful to you. Some days may be more structured than others, and that is okay. Be gentle with yourself and your loved ones, allow for flexibility.
Although our schedules have changed, our bodies' need for food has not. Our stomachs still empty every 3-4 hours. Continuing to set aside time for regular meals and snacks is a great way to care for yourself, and maintain a sense of normalcy, at a time when very few things feel normal.
2. Check in with yourself.
Maybe you don’t have kids at home and are just providing for yourself, or are providing for you and a roommate, or you and a partner. This message still applies. Give yourself permission to check in with yourself (and whoever you are living with) every few hours and ask:
- “When was the last time that I ate?”
- “How hungry am I right now?”
- “What food(s) sound good to me?”
Some days, implementing this kind of flexible structure and checking in with yourself may feel easy. Other days, it may not go as well. Be gentle with yourself, you are doing the best that you can. If you are struggling with these questions and are just providing for yourself, think of how you would want to feed a child or a loved one in a time such as this. What would you tell them about how they can nourish their bodies? How would you encourage them to make food a priority?
3. Focus on adequacy.
There have been numerous news stories and social media posts dedicated to sharing information on which foods are “healthiest” for us to stock up on during this time of quarantine. If pouring over nutrition facts labels feels tiring and unnecessary, you are not alone in that feeling. This is not the time to get bogged down in nutrition facts. Some grocery stores are now changing their hours and limiting how many of a certain product you can purchase at one time. Consider being flexible with the food choices that you make at the grocery store, and instead of nutrition details, focus on eating adequately.
Ellyn Satter makes a case for eating adequately before considering the nutritional profiles of food. In her Hierarchy of Food Needs, Satter contends that eating enough food should be our first priority. Getting enough food is going to look different for all of us at this time. At some meals, maybe that looks like eating multiple food groups. Other meals, maybe that looks like eating just carbohydrate rich foods. It is a privilege to continue to be able to eat a variety of different foods during this time. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to go to the grocery store each week to buy fresh foods or being able to stock up on multiple weeks of food. Our bodies are better able to fight off infection when they are well fed, regardless of the type of food that we eat. Know that it is okay if your meals look different now than they did a few weeks ago. We are all doing the best that we can.
4. Consider how to be creative with the food on hand.
Since the quarantine started, I have had the privilege of having more time on my hands to cook and bake. I recognize that not everyone has the opportunity to cook new recipes during this time, nor is everyone interested in that. If you are someone who is interested in trying a new recipe (and maybe even involving your children in the cooking process!), search Sunny Side Up Nutrition's recipes. These recipes are simple and many are designed for kids to help. Also, consider searching the Food Hero and Chop Chop Family websites. Food Hero allows you to search their recipe database by ingredient, and Chop Chop Family allows you to search recipes by category (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner). Chop Chop also outlines all of the kitchen gear that they think you will need for each recipe - making it easier for you to decide if you have what it takes to make a recipe, before you start cooking.
5. Support local restaurants, if able.
Starting to feel stir crazy when it comes to preparing meals at home? Consider supporting a local restaurant by ordering takeout, if your budget allows. Some restaurants are offering special deals in an effort to get more Americans to eat out and support the restaurant industry. If you are reading this and live in the Triangle area, consider checking out this list of local restaurants that are continuing to offer curbside pickup or delivery.
If you are feeling concerned about food safety when ordering out or cooking at home, consider that there is currently no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Food safety experts recommend that you continue to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to preparing or eating food, or use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. For more information about best practices with food, review the tips listed here and here.
As a closing thought, I leave you with a message of encouragement that one of my former coaches would often share with me.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
We are all trying to figure out this new normal. Please be patient with yourself and with others. Each day, or maybe even each hour, may look different than planned. Wishing you self compassion and peace as we work through this, together.
If you have nutrition questions or need nutrition support for yourself or your family, Karen and all the dietitians at Pinney Davenport Nutrition and Lutz, Alexander Nutrition Therapy are conducting sessions via telehealth. We'd love to help!
Karen Manschot, MS, RDN, LDN -- Lutz, Alexander & Associates Nutrition Therapy
Guest Post Writer
Karen provides nutrition therapy for adolescents and adults with a variety of nutrition concerns, including disordered eating and sports nutrition. She also leads an Intuitive Eating group that provides both psychoeducation and support for adults on their Intuitive Eating journey. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics & Nutrition and Fitness & Health at Purdue University where she was a student-athlete competing in distance events for the Purdue Women’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams. Karen completed her dietetic internship and Master of Science degree in Nutrition & Dietetics at Northern Illinois University, where she also served as a volunteer assistant coach for the Women’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams. She utilizes motivational interviewing and a non-diet approach to assist clients in improving their relationship with food. Karen typically sees clients in Raleigh, NC and virtually. To contact Karen directly you can email her at email@example.com